First-timers look to stand out at Ryder Cup


Ryder Cup

NEWPORT, Wales – Experience has its place in golf, but not necessarily at this Ryder Cup.

Nearly half the field – five Americans and six Europeans – will be making their Ryder Cup debuts at Celtic Manor.

The American team could get starring roles from hard-luck Dustin Johnson or 21-year-old Rickie Fowler.

Europe has Edoardo Molinari and his younger brother Francesco. The Italians expect to get a lot of playing time together, and surely no pairing will have more chemistry than the first sibling teammates at the Ryder Cup since 1963.

The 11 rookies are the most at a Ryder Cup since 1979, the first time the competition was opened up to the entire European continent. That year, a U.S. team featuring eight first-year players defeated a European squad with five.

“I don’t want to let myself down this week. I don’t want to let anyone else down this week. That’s the big thing,” said 21-year-old Rory McIlroy, another of the European rookies. “You are not just playing for yourself, you’re playing for 11 other guys, plus all of the backroom staff and most of Europe, as well.”

European captain Colin Montgomerie has played in eight Ryder Cups, and he’s hoping his first-year players – there’s also Martin Kaymer, Ross Fisher and Peter Hanson – will be able to draw on some of his experiences.

“I’ve always hit my putts slightly firmer in Ryder Cup play, personally, and I’m trying to pass on that knowledge to the rookies,” he said. “I’ve been very lucky with the partners that I’ve had in my foursomes and fourball play. … It’s allowed me the freedom to hit my putts firmer than I would have done normally, and it’s amazing how many of them go in.”

Montgomerie was mindful of his team’s youth when he chose three-time major champion Padraig Harrington with one of his three wild-card picks. Plus, he’s got some possible pairings that will mitigate the inexperience factor. The Molinaris are the most obvious example. And he’ll likely put McIlroy with U.S. Open champ Graeme McDowell in a Northern Irish duo.

The U.S. showed at the last Ryder Cup that it’s possible to claim the cup when 50 percent of the 12-man squad has never been there before. Anthony Kim was the emotional leader. Boo Weekley kept everyone at ease with his colorful antics. Hunter Mahan and J.B. Holmes played like veterans, and two other rookies – Steve Stricker and Ben Curtis – filled out the roster.

“You know, it’s not life or death out there,” Mahan said. “It’s just golf and likely we have all done this before. If it was chess or something like that, I would be sweating.”

The other American rookies at this Ryder Cup are Matt Kuchar, Jeff Overton and Bubba Watson.

“I would just tell them, 'Have fun,”’ Mahan said. “The first shot is going to be fun. These fans are going to be crazy and they are going to be obviously cheering for Europe hard and you should use that, and have fun with it. It’s not personal out there. You know, it’s not like they really dislike you or anything like that. It’s just golf.”

At least Mahan brings some experience in team golf to his first Ryder Cup. He played on the U.S. Presidents Cup team in 2007.

None of the American rookies on this year’s team has that to fall back on.

As for the Americans, they’re hoping to recapture the camaraderie they had two years ago, despite having only five holdovers from that team.

Watson has emerged as the candidate to fill Weekley’s role as team jester.

“Bubba is not quite as funny as Boo,” Stricker said. “What is the word, 'compatibate,’ that Boo came up with at Valhalla? We have not got to that point with Bubba. But he’s very light. He’s very vocal at times.”

Stricker said he’s comfortable with the makeup of the U.S. team, even with so many newcomers. As the Europeans have shown so many times – and the Americans picked up on in 2008 – being able to “compatibate” often plays nearly as important a role as pure shot-making in a Ryder Cup.

“It’s a great mix of guys,” Stricker said of his team. “We have some guys that have a tremendous amount of experience, and we have some guys with no experience, and we have some guys in the middle. We are all getting along nicely. It’s fun to go in the team room. Everyone is very relaxed and light so far, and hopefully we can keep it that way.”